Mystery, murder and war go hand in hand in Flynn’s latest

By Walt Braun

Mitch Rapp is one of those individuals who’s a great friend and a worse enemy. He’s CIA, the kind of agent who is sent on missions no one else can handle.

In “The Last Man,” his mission is to find out who kidnapped the head of the CIA’s clandestine operations in Afghanistan, Joe Rickman, kill them and, if Rickman is still alive, bring him back in.

Not only has Rickman been kidnapped from a safe house and his four bodyguards executed but the safe containing reams of classified data is empty – opened the traditional way, not the explosive way.

If Rickman reveals what he knows under torture – and Rapp knows everyone can crack under torture – the information could compromise U.S. agents and the local residents who work for them and set back U.S. intelligence by a decade.

The situation in Afghanistan is complicated by the fact that it’s hard to tell friend from foe.

Rapp is reminded of that when, acting on a tip about Rickman’s potential whereabouts, he and the handful of agents with him are ambushed by several truckloads of Afghan soldiers.

Though badly injured, Rapp is saved, ironically, by a man he loathes enough to kill. His rescuer is a hit man who is hired to kill him in Afghanistan but who changes his mind at the last minute because he realizes that he, too, has been targeted.

After When Rapp is wounded, Irene Kennedy, the CIA director, shows up ready to direct the operation.

The ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence service, is another player in the story. The ISI’s loyalties are divided; one faction supports the American efforts against al-Qaeda and another supports al-Qaeda.

The agency’s unreliability is one of the reasons Pakistan was not informed of the U.S. raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in May 2011. In “The Last Man,” the ISI would be delighted to know Rickman’s secrets.

The ante is raised when the terrorists who kidnapped Rickman broadcast a video of him under torture; that action has locals who’ve helped the United States rushing to U.S embassies seeking asylum and sends chills throughout the leadership of the CIA, including Director Kennedy. It is she who dispatched Rapp to Afghanistan to find.

Despite his injuries, Rapp continues his quest.

Resourceful and intimidating, he finds the place where Rickman was tortured.

Evidence there suggests not only that Rickman was tortured but that he died under torture. That’s both good and bad news. The CIA didn’t want to lose Rickman, but it would rather lose him than information that could lead to countless other agency deaths.

Rickman didn’t reveal much under torture, but, as it turns out, neither did he die at the hands of his captors.

Rapp’s ultimate challenge becomes determining whether Rapp was truly kidnapped and was able to turn the tables on his kidnappers or whether, for whatever reason, he was betraying his country.

If he’s now an enemy, he would not be allowed to live.

Vince Flynn, who wrote “The Last Man,” has built another good story around a heroic protagonist and plausible characters on all sides of the conflict.

The politics – as well as international – are well handled.

If anything seems out of place, it is the CIA director showing up in Afghanistan when Rapp is injured.

Nevertheless, Flynn, whose dozen novels include multiple bestsellers, has woven another intriguing tale.

Walt Braun is the Mercury’s editorial page editor and a Manhattan resident.

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